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Fashion Finds Tests Clairol Herbal Essences

Reported by Darcy Meadows

Like most people I  have specific hair concerns. I have very long, thin, fine, dark brown hair. It is easily affected by "fly-aways," and often appears very thin. I use L'OrĂ©al Body Vive shampoos and conditioners, every day, to keep my hair fuller and lightly conditioned without weighing it down. I regularly use the Body Vive Add-In Body Spray and Herbal Essences Styling Gel to keep the body and hold a curl throughout the day. 

My sister, Robin, age 28, has always been picky about her hair (I ducked many thrown curling irons and mirrors during my childhood!). But now, with three kids spanning from 8 months to 6 years keeping her pretty busy, she is just looking for the best product that will allow her quick styling when her hair is dry. Robin has medium-long, thin, straight hair. Her naturally light brown hair is dyed soft auburn. She uses Suave shampoo and conditioner every day, and does not do deep conditioning or any other major hair care routines.

My mother, Judy, age 50, will spend as much time on her hair as is needed, and won't budge from the house until she looks Donna Reed perfect. Her hair is very short, thin and fine, which is hard to wear in her desired style (a cross between Blanche Devereaux of The Golden Girls and Sandy Duncan) without following her obsessive "routine." She has salt and pepper hair, dyed light auburn. She uses Lori Davis shampoo, but never conditions. She says it makes her hair oily and hard to style. 

My neighbors, Debbie, Karl and Karlee, are quite an active family.  Karlee, who is 7, is involved in everything from jazz, ballet, and piano to modern dance. They're all constantly on the go, and the unanimous hair objectives in their family are products that are "quick & easy!" Whatever can get them in and out of the bath as quickly as possible, while maintaining a healthy-looking head of hair, is the desired routine. Debbie is a half Latina, half Caucasian 36 year old, with thick, curly, color-treated (brown to medium golden brown) hair. Debbie frequently switches shampoos, finding that variety works best to keep her hair the healthiest. She washes her hair every day or two, but does not use conditioner. Debbie says her hair is pretty moisture-balanced already. Karl is a Caucasian, 35 year old, with short, wavy, fine hair. He uses Head and Shoulders every day, without conditioning afterwards. Karl says his hair is healthy enough that he doesn't need the extra moisturizing. Karlee, at 7, has thick, short, straight, very healthy hair. She really has no hair concerns, except that since she is a youngster, she tends to get the tangles a lot from being hard at play. Karlee says she needs a gently formulated shampoo that will prevent tangles. She uses Johnson's Baby Shampoo Detangling Formula every day. 

My cousin, Ethan, 20, is half-Caucasian, half-Latino. He has very fine, short and soft black hair. His hair is so fine and soft, in fact, that it is overly problematic to style, so he usually wears it in a burr cut, which seems to fit his lifestyle as well. He is always on the go, "out cruisin' for chicks," and ready to knock 'em dead with as little effort as it will take to look good enough for the job. He uses Suave shampoo, every day, but does not use conditioner, saying his hair is too soft already.

My friend Daisy, 18, has very specific hair concerns. She is Latina, with thick, naturally curly, medium-long hair, dyed a cocoa/medium brown with golden highlights. She needs extra moisturizing for the color treatment. Daisy uses Pantene Pro-V every other day. Because of the inevitable frizzies that occur with the humid weather, Daisy uses a frizz control product. She also uses mousse to give her hair some volume, because the frizz tamer tends to weigh it down and make it flat. 

Fashion Finds asked me to conduct a test of the Clairol Herbal Essences product line. We wanted to find out what a real group of people had to say about Herbal Essences. 

Clairol's marketing people want you to "Have a Totally Organic Experience...with style!" They incorporate natural ingredients such as flower and herb extracts, along with vitamins. These natural ingredients, they claim, are healthier for your hair, and using the right combination, will enable you to fix the specific hair care problems we all suffer. 

Herbal Essences, like many lines, offer different products for  different hair types. Their hair care systems, consisting of a shampoo and a matching conditioner, for the four main hair types: dry and damaged, oily, normal, and limp/thin hair. 

Herbal Essences Shampoo/Repelenisher: Replenishing For Colored, Permed, Dry, and Damaged Hair contains Rose Hips, Vitamin E, Jojoba and other plant-derived ingredients. The Conditioner that goes with this shampoo contains Thyme, Wheat Germ, Vitamin E, and other plant ingredients that when used together are supposed to add that extra amount of moisturizing that dry and damaged hair needs to leave it "luxuriously soft and healthy looking."

Herbal Essences Shampoo/Renewer: Moisture Balancing for Normal Hair contains Chamomile, Aloe Vera and Passion flower, with other plant-derived ingredients. The matching conditioner contains Aloe Vera, Chamomile, Jojoba, and other plant-derived ingredients, that when combined will "promote silkiness and luster in normal hair, while providing moisture-rich replenishment". 

Herbal Essences Shampoo/Refresher: Clarifying for Normal to Oily Hair contains natural Rosemary, Jasmine, Orange Flower and other plant-derived ingredients. The matching conditioner contains Sage, Jasmine, Soy Protein, and other plant ingredients that are supposed to clean gently to remove oils and styling buildup, while still enhancing shine. 

And finally, my favorite, Clairol's Herbal Essences Shampoo/Reviver: Extra Body for Fine, Limp Hair, which contains Marigold Flowers, Angelica, Thyme, and other plant-derived ingredients. The matching conditioner contains Sunflower extract, Rosemary, Oat Protein, and other plant ingredients that they claim will "restore beautiful body and shine while leaving fine/limp hair fuller and more resilient" and "will give hair maximum body, bounce and fullness." 

For the test I conducted, I rounded up the previously mentioned people to try out the products. I purchased all four formulas for different hair types, and dispensed them accordingly to my test subjects. I asked that they use the products for three days, if possible. Robin, Judy, Ethan and Daisy all used their products for the entire three days. As you might expect, they are the ones who liked the products.

Karl used it for two days and stopped, saying he prefers his regular brand, and found the conditioning a waste of time. Also, Karl complained that the scent was a little overpowering. 

Debbie, too, used the products for two days, saying she liked it enough to use "occasionally," but not on a regular basis. 

Karlee used the product for only one day, saying it is "too harsh." 

I talked to them about their experiences with the products and let them fill out my questionnaire themselves, to make sure I got their exact words and opinions. I then compiled all the information to share with you. 

Robin used the products for normal to oily hair, since she tends to have problems with shampoos weighing her hair down. She thought that the shampoo and conditioner's packaging was "easily accessible and easy to dispense." She enjoyed the fragrance, saying it was "nice without being too strong." The shampoo worked well with her hair type, leaving it "soft and not too oily." Using the conditioner was also a pleasant experience for her, as it "moisturized very well without weighing my hair down or leaving a residue." The overall results, after drying and styling her hair, were positive, leaving Robin's hair "shiny, clean and not weighed down." It's very often a concern for some users that there might be irritation or allergic reaction when using a new product, but Robin experienced no reactions, and said she would consider switching to Herbal Essences, as it was easy and moisturizing enough to make it a "quick wash and go" routine. 

Judy is so picky about her hair that when I thought of using her in the test, I almost decided not to, fearing for Clairol's financial future! But I eventually decided she would be a good one to ask, because she is usually very open about products concerning her "most important" vanity area. Judy used the products for color-treated, permed or dry hair, because prolonging the color is important to her. She, too, found the packaging easy and "very attractive." She "loved" the fragrance of her specific products. She didn't experience that "squeaky clean" feeling with the shampoo as she does with her regular shampoo, but it didn't leave a residue, "just a soft clean feeling." The conditioner was a touchy issue with her.  She was reluctant to use it, because most conditioners leave her hair too oily and weighed down. But Herbal Essences seemed to work well with her hair. "It rinsed out very easily and didn't weigh my hair down. Made my hair soft without being flat". Overall, Judy told me, the shampoo and conditioner made her hair very soft, without being too soft to style in her desired manner. She thought it was nice, and reasonably moisturizing." Judy did not experience any allergic reactions, and said she would be willing to switch to Herbal Essences. 

Debbie used the products for normal hair. She claims her hair is not oily or dry, and even though it is naturally curly and thick, she has no major complaints. Debbie doesn't normally use products specialized for colored hair, either. She summed up the packaging inquiry saying it was "easy to use," and that she enjoyed the scents, although the conditioner didn't smell quite as attractive as the shampoo. She said the shampoo "smelled good and really cleans, but it's kind of strong for color treated hair." The conditioner didn't leave any residue; however, Debbie prefers not using conditioner because her hair is healthy enough that it's a waste of time. Overall the products made her hair "very soft and shiny." There were no allergic reactions or discomforts associated with the products and when asked if she would likely switch to Herbal Essences she said, "Yes, every two or three months, I'd alternate." 

Karl used the products for normal hair types. He has a custom military cut, wavy blonde hair, no major complaints or special needs. He said the packaging and dispensing was "easy," and the scents were "OK, but kinda strong." The shampoo made his hair "feel clean." The conditioner was "OK, but I don't really need it." Overall, Herbal Essences made his hair feel "very clean." There were no allergic reactions associated with this product. When asked if he would likely switch to Herbal Essences, Karl said he probably would not, because he likes his own regular brand much more, and wasn't impressed enough to switch. 

Karlee used the products for normal hair types, because she has very healthy hair and has no major problems associated with her hair styling/hair type. She found the packaging easy to use and liked the fragrance. She said that the shampoo made her hair feel "squeaky clean." The conditioners failed to serve her main concern for detangling. It left her hair very tangled and hard to comb out afterwards. There was no residue left behind, and in the end her hair was "shiny and felt pretty soft." She experienced no allergic reactions. When asked if she would likely switch, she said she wouldn't like to. And her mother added, "No -- it's not good for a child. The product stung her eyes, did not make her hair tangle free, and also, I would rather use a two-in-one product, so I can have her in and out of the bath as quickly as possible." 

Ethan used the products for extra body for fine limp hair. Ethan liked the packaging, saying it was "easy enough." He said the fragrance was "good without being too overpowering and making me smell like flowers all day!" The shampoo "cleansed very well," and the conditioner didn't make his hair "flat like most conditioners do." There was no residue from the products, and overall they left his hair "very shiny and soft, without being overly soft and flat." He did not have any allergic reactions, and said he liked it enough to consider switching to Herbal Essences.

Daisy used the products for colored, permed, or damaged/dry hair, because she needs that extra moisturizing and gentleness, without weighing her hair down. When asked about the packaging Daisy said she thought it was very easy to use. "You don't have to completely take the top off to use it. You just snap it back, squeeze, and snap it back into place to close it. It's very convenient." She thought the fragrance was "Refreshing. And it  even left my hair smelling good the next day." She thought the shampoo "cleansed very well," and enjoyed the conditioner a lot, saying that it left her hair "smelling great, really soft, and doesn't produce tangles like other conditioners." There was no residue and there were no allergic reactions. "My hair felt really smooth and looked great." When asked if she would switch to Herbal Essences she simply stated, "Yes, I would." 

During the course of the study, and going over the responses and results, I think Herbal Essences is not for everyone. It might not be ideal for kids if Karlee's experience is common. People who focus on hair care liked Herbal Essences more than those who want a quick and easy shower routine. 

Several complained that a separate shampoo and conditioner wasted time, and a two-in-one product fit into their lives and time allowances better. Are you listening, Clairol? 

Several members of the Fashion Finds staff tried the products, too. They complained that the scents of the products, which are supposed to smell "natural" because of the herbal ingredients, smelled anything but. They compared the smell to an overpowering candy-like fragrance. The sweet scent could be smelled throughout the entire house as one person took a shower, which could be a plus if you like the smell, but if not, pretty nauseating. They pointed out that one of the listed ingredients is "fragrance," which probably accounts more for the scent than the herbal ingredients.

I particularly didn't like the lack of body that the products provided, which left my hair flat and limp. The overall effect of the products we used was less than appealing when compared to our regular brands, which we are all sticking with. We found that  the "Organic Experience" just didn't excite us as much as Clairol would hope. 

My advice, if you have no major complaints about your regular hair care products, is to stick to what you are using, and forgo the Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner mix-and-match hassle. 

When we began this test, we wanted to calculate exactly how great the "organic" ingredients would be for our hair. But when we looked at the full list of ingredients, we discovered a lot of additives that are not at all organic. Herbal Essences contains extracts of natural herbs, vitamins, and minerals, true enough. However, the extracts are joined by such ingredients as: chloride phosphate, propylene glycol, idopropynyl butylcarbamate, and ... wait, what was that last one? That doesn't exactly leave a fresh and "organic" image in my mind! 

The answer is in the question. Not that I am denying the presence of organic ingredients in the Herbal Essences product line. They certainly do contain them, but they're not "totally organic" in composition, as their well-known jingle claims. I don't exactly step out of the shower feeling like I have just embarked on a sensually impeccable experience. Sure, I feel refreshed like I do with all showers, nothing new about that. But, the idea that using these shampoos and conditioners is going to make us "Yes! Yes! Yes!" all through our shower is, if nothing else, a good laugh. The "Totally Organic Experience" I had certainly won't keep me at home from a date with that gorgeous hunk.

My Mom, Judy, and I have had lots of laughs over the Herbal Essences advertising campaign for several years now. After trying to discover that experience with unmatched gusto, we only laughed harder. No offense to Dr. Ruth, but that yelling and "Uhh! Ahh!" in a grocery store aisle? I think not! We'll stick to the down-to-earth showers and shopping trips. Herbal Essences isn't anything magnificent to experience, but we have to admit they do have a catchy slogan. We all use the "totally organic experience" phrase from time to time, usually as a punch line . It might be totally ludicrous in its validity from a consumer's point of view, but it got our attention enough to remember the product, and that's what they are hoping for. I'm sure more than one person out there has used these products for the simple reason that they were convinced by the TV commercials. Use a catchy slogan and get a nation's attention. But if Clairol expects us to  respond by having that "Totally Organic Experience," I'm sure you'll find it leaves a lot to be desired. Stick to the product that  makes your hair the easiest to manage and fits your essential concerns, don't go chasing fairy tale "experiences."

And if you take my advice on that, you'll see why Clairol is so desperate to want our use of Herbal Essences to go beyond the shower and into our daily lives. They have started a new feature on their website (, called "Club Herbal," a web portal that is based on the consumer's life devotion to Herbal Essences! Basically, the idea is that you have your own "page" setup, allowing you to customize it to fit your very own special needs -- yes, just like their hair care products offer. You are allowed to use this page every day when you join the "club,"  complete with member names and passwords to give you that extra special "personal" feeling, I suppose. At least a daily dependency on their "Club Herbal" is what they are hoping for. What could you possible use to customize your page? Well, things such as your local weather report, your daily horoscope, the latest sports and world news links that you can bookmark, allowing you to sign on and get all your information needs in once place. Sound like a pretty cool idea? So much so, that web sites like Yahoo! and Excite embarked on such a setup ages ago! I don't think this "Club Herbal" innovation is going to steal Internet users from the major search engines in the near future. I think the chances that I will log onto a hair care website to see who won the Senate races is close to none. I'll stick to my regular web resources, as I'm sure most Internet users will. However, for those of you in need of a T-shirt, Club Herbal does have a daily drawing for a free "Club Herbal Tee"! See you at the contest . . . or maybe not. Oh, and, by the way, today's Herbal Essences Horoscope for all 12 signs: "You're going to have a very flat hair day."

Editor's note:  For those of you old enough to remember, the original Clairol Herbal Essence Shampoo came out in 1971, and was the first shampoo to adopt the flower child approach to marketing.  It had a wonderful scent, and it was the first of its kind.  The current Herbal Essences line bears no resemblance to the original, which you may have thought had been relegated to the Clairol product museum.  But no!  Look carefully at the drugstore Clairol shelf, and there it is!  The original delightfully shaped bottle, with the same scent.  It's great just to see it.